Debits, Credits and the Cross
Every so often I get to put on my old Church Administrator’s hat and lend a hand to those who do such a great job accounting for every penny the church receives and gives away. As Dawn steadily chips away at the monumental job of transferring all our financial records from one computer system to another, I’ve offered my extra set of eyes when the numbers have gotten just too knotted and gnarled to make any sense. Frankly, I love it.
When an $11,699.73 journal entry is off by $537.62 there is one and only one right answer to the question of what we must do to balance the account, only one way to untie the knot. Oh, it may be a data entry error or missed transaction; it may be fund code mistake or confusion about an account (remind me of the difference between our church improvement fund and the capital improvement fund!), or any combination thereof, but there is a solution, the right solution that puts everything back in balance.
I’m no accountant, to be sure, but I do know that in a double entry book keeping system like ours we’ve always got to balance the debits and the credits. Great was the joy, then, this week when we discovered the debit not entered that balanced the credits in a payroll-related general journal entry (employer’s share of FICA and Medicare for those of you who care about such things).
There’s something satisfying about the right-answer precision of accounting that you don’t always find in pastoral ministry. Okay, not all of us find pleasure in accounting, but there’s a lesson to be learned.
Apparently Jesus knew a bit about accounting. In the prayer he taught his disciples he likened sin to a debt owed. Among the stories he liked to tell are a couple that picture God with his lavish grace as a creditor who cancels the enormous and crushing load of debt carried by his debtors. The stories call us to be as generous with those who have wronged us (see Luke 7:41-43 and Matthew 18:21-35).
In our church accounting system there must be a credit to balance every debit. It’s how the system works. It is not so in my life. Day by day I keep adding to the debit column. To paraphrase the wise words in the tradition of the daily prayer, “Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbors as myself.”
I keep adding to the debit column and I simply do not and cannot add enough to the credit column to keep my account balanced. My altruistic acts and my noble thoughts are as if I saved all my pennies, nickels and dimes to be paid against the national debt. The credits I gain are laughable compared to the debt that remains.
When we pray the Lord’s prayer we don’t ask for an extra credit to our account, a infusion of capital to offset the debts incurred during the week, we plead for the mercy of the master to whom we owe more than we could ever repay. By his grace he cancels our debt, not balancing the books, but tossing them out altogether.
But then the story takes a surprising turn. Even though he has canceled the servant’s debt, payment is still owed. The loving master quietly, generously pays it himself. Paul puts it this way when he writes the Colossians, “God canceled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”
The debt canceled at enormous cost.
The beautiful terrible cross.
Debits, Credits and the Cross